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Youth Boys Oct 25, 2019

Kyle Martino is hustling to bring more pickup soccer to American cities

Former U.S. Men’s National Team and Major League Soccer player Kyle Martino shared his mission to bring more street soccer to America’s cities on Episode 4 of The SoccerWire Podcast.

Martino, who ran in the 2018 U.S. Soccer Federation presidential election and also works on air with NBC Sports in their coverage of the English Premier League, recently launched the non-profit Over Under Initiative with the goal of increasing access to sport in urban neighborhoods.

The name of Martino’s organization, Over Under, refers to a solution for public playing surfaces which would provide soccer goals underneath basketball hoops. By converting basketball courts and other blacktops to multi-sport spaces, the Over Under Initiative is providing more play opportunities for kids most in need of these proven benefits.

Martino and his team tracked activity at 1000s of public basketball courts across New York City, and found that hundreds of the courts were vacant every day for hours on end, effectively wasting opportunities for the community to use those surfaces for soccer or other sports.

“I was terrified to find out, simply the incredible life benefit of being involved in teams sports has become a luxury of a few and not a right of all,” Martino said on The SoccerWire Podcast. “I founded the Over Under Initiative because I knew access to youth sports was the big problem that’s becoming a health crisis with childhood obesity tripling since the ’70s… I was out to figure out, what is this problem keeping kids out of sports, and Over Under Initiative was the answer.”

Through the Initiative, Martino and his team have worked with cities not only in New York, but also in Grand Rapids, Mich. and up next in San Francisco, to launch multi-sport athletic courts in urban areas.

In addition to covering the important work of the Over Under Initiative, along with that of Street Soccer USA and Soccer in the Streets, Martino discussed several other pressing issues around the state of U.S. soccer player development on The SoccerWire Podcast with hosts Marc Serber and Charles Boehm.

Among those pressing topics is the problem of early specialization, which is widely believed to be a major cause of the country’s alarming youth sports burnout rate, as 70% of kids drop out of sports before the age of 13. Parlayed with the fast-rising costs of playing youth sports, as the families of 12-year-old athletes are paying $5,000 – $10,000 per year just to participate, more kids than ever are being priced out and burnt out on sports at an early age.

“We have to stop forcing these kids into sports, these kids are just burning out,” Martino said, referencing a conversation he had with Mia Hamm prior to the 2018 U.S. Soccer election. Paraphrasing Hamm’s words, Martino said: “The thing that’s most important, that scares me, is that kids just aren’t having fun anymore. And it’s an absolute epidemic.”

On this week’s podcast episode, Martino also discusses the state of the U.S. Soccer Federation since the election of president Carlos Cordeiro.

“Do I in the aftermath of the election think we’ve moved in the right direction? No,” Martino said. “And that’s not necessarily a criticism of Carlos [Cordeiro]. I just think there are systemic issues within U.S. Soccer that will take cycles to fix.

Martino continued:

“The most important priority is to rid the Federation of this culture of patronage, and this opacity that makes it an organization hard to understand and truly appreciate the architecture of. For instance, the search for the next CEO. That’s one of the most important hires in the history of U.S. Soccer, and we have no idea of the process and how it’s going.

So, I’m not going to lie and say that those things don’t frustrate me and that I don’t try to lend what I can behind the scenes to help mitigate some of these issues, but also in the landscape outside of U.S. Soccer.

There’s 80 million kids between the ages of 2 and 18. So the landscape is so larger than – even if the Federation was run properly – than they can handle. So I’m done kind of yelling and getting upset and getting frustrated.

The election was shocking in many ways, and incredibly inspiring in many ways. I feel optimistic that solutions are there outside [the Federation] and eventually with enough pressure and scrutiny on decisions that are being made by our Federation that are harming the landscape and that are forcing us to work much harder outside the gates. Eventually the pendulum’s got to swing the other direction.”

Listen to the full interview on Episode 4 of The SoccerWire Podcast.